or "Moscow Muellers" anyone?
While the late night passage of the Senate tax bill has garnered the most attention, perhaps the most telling event this past week was the guilty plea by Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI. The White House and Congressional Republicans have tried their best to push this unsavory bit of news under the carpet so that they can bask in the glory of their first major legislative victory of the year, but this is the type of story that is going to grow in the succeeding months and there really is nothing they can do to stop it.
For Hillarycrats the Flynn plea has to provide a small measure of comfort, as he was the one chanting "Lock Her Up!" at the Republican Convention two summers ago. It seems Flynn will avoid jail time for the testimony he is giving on his relationship with Russian officials. This doesn't look good for the Trump administration, which the former general was an integral part of. In particular, it doesn't look good for Jared Kushner, who was perhaps Flynn's biggest champion. It also doesn't look good for Donnie, Jr.
The major questions are: how much "Mogul" was aware of all these backdoor negotiations, and why was the Trump administration so anxious to appease Russia? Mueller apparently now has access to Trump's financial records dating back decades to the original Trump Tower, with a long paper trail of real estate deals involving dubious Russian buyers. It seems the Donald liked to Party like an Oligarch, even before Putin came to power. This of course would have made him an easy target, as James Clapper pointed out at the beginning of the year.
Meanwhile, Trump tries to play "smart," claiming he was well aware of Flynn's lies at the time of his firing. He should have been, since he had been warned by Sally Yates that Flynn was a security risk. But, this doesn't explain why he took Flynn on in this capacity to begin with since he had previously been warned by the Obama administration during the transition period. So, he either chose to chuck all this information aside as worthless intel, or Flynn was a valuable go-between the Trump team and the Kremlin, which had been cultivating the disgruntled former general for quite sometime, and invited him to a high profile dinner with Putin in December, 2015, on the eve of the US election year.
My guess is these connections are also intertwined with Kushner's New York Observer, Breitbart, and other conservative outlets that funneled RT (Russia Today) stories through their websites. What seems to have developed in 2016 is an elaborate set of ties between Russian and American conservative "news" sites allowing for the dissemination of "truthy" articles aimed at convincing fence-sitting conservatives and moderates that Trump was their man.
This was an active orchestration of news stories, not just happenstance, as the editors of these online news journals would like us to believe. It still goes on today, as we see Trump reference not one but three articles from a far-right fringe group in Britain on his twitter feed, leading to a stern rebuke from Theresa May. This was apparently meant to stir dissent over the deal the British Conservative government is trying to reach with the EU over Brexit. Seems Brexiteers aren't happy about the 50 billion pound divorce settlement. They would prefer no deal at all.
Flynn can shed a lot of light on all these connections, as he would have been a major part of it, given his close ties with the Kremlin. In fact, his own son helped spread some of these stories, like the infamous Pizzagate conspiracy, which led to his ouster from the transition team. It seems the Trump administration would like to make Flynn into an "Ollie North," a lone wolf who pursued these negotiations without any authority from the top.
How much any of this influenced the 2016 elections is anyone's guess, but it certainly casts a cloud not only over the Trump administration but the GOP as a whole. Reince Priebus, the former Chair of the Republican National Committee, worked hand in hand with Flynn and other officials close to the Trump campaign team throughout the election and was rewarded with the position of Chief of Staff in the Trump White House.
This is particularly worrisome as one of the states that came under intense scrutiny after the election was Wisconsin, where Priebus hails from, as does Paul Ryan, the House Speaker, who is next in line to the President after the Vice-President. Many of these coordinated Russian-inspired news stories were aimed at Wisconsin voters and other battleground state voters in hopes of turning key state elections in Trump's favor. There is also the matter of whether the GOP would have sanctioned the tampering of electronic ballot boxes by a mysterious third party? After all, they showed no concerns when the Russians hacked the DNC e-mail server, a felony in its own right, passing it off as weak internet security on the part of the Democrats.
The only thing that might save the Trump White House is that the scandal is so murky that Mueller may never get to the bottom of it. All he can do is work his way around the edges and hope to get persons like Flynn and Papadopoulos to come clean, but I imagine to a certain degree these two fear for their own lives knowing how the Kremlin has dealt with snitches in the past.
In the meantime, Trump and the Republicans will no doubt have another Rose Garden Party to celebrate their tax bill victory. If the lighting of the White House Christmas Tree is any indication, there won't be much enthusiasm for the event. This could very well be Trump's first and last Christmas in the White House. As for the Republicans, many of them are likely to find they no longer have a seat in Congress after the 2018 midterms, given how unpopular this bill is among Americans, as they won't have the luxury of using the Russian political cyber-war tactics so easily this time around.